It all started with some white woman in Naperville, Illinois – because, of course, it happened. In the mid-1990s, in a dead-end street in an affluent Midwest suburb where three-lane alleys run around the bricks of McMansions, Johnny, Becky, and Mary Beth decide they want a cute little sausage from a humble toy company Ty Inc., and I want to collect them all. A bad start, yes, but one that will cause Ty founder, future billionaire, and future tax evader, H. Ty Warner, to ignore how Mary Beth helped stoke national consumer fear about her product, and they sue for breaking the law. So this story has a hero and a villain, a couple falling somewhere in the middle, and a nation of millionaires fueling later consumer demand for plastic bags so they can push their hundreds of useless baby beanies down the basement stairs. (The real winner here? Maybe Rubbermaid.)
At that time, Ty Inc. has 14 employees, and Warner is:
Here he is characterized as an elusive, Oz/Wonka type – he seems like a nice guy with a clear mind for marketing. Simple! He had no interest in the selling off his wares at Wal-Mart and the like; she prefers moms and dads, Hallmark franchisees, and gift shops. Nobleman! He hires Lina as a telemarketer, and after she offers to put a cute little poem on the Beanie Babies label, he asks her to write it. Whoa, honey! After Ty made his billions, Warner was still paying Lina $12 an hour, so she left. Typical!
We met our first beanie fan. The 90s were a “reckless” time, says Johnny, easily described as an upper-middle-class Caucasian. She is a beanie collector and writer for People magazine who accepted a solo interview with Warner. Mary Beth quit her company job and started the hobby magazine Beanie Babies, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies (which eventually led to the lawsuit above). We meet Peggy, a 60-year-old woman who has too many pillows on her couch. The slight choke made her giggle, so she started buying too much, hiding it from her husband, but finally admitting it. Your reason? He collects Porsches and Mercedes, so their hobby is not that expensive. Finally, he announced that he was still in the Beanie Babies authentication group, having assessed and authenticated more than 125,000 young children for $20-25 each. Do the math. Or don’t if you will, no P.O.
These women are key figures in the mania:
Since they were competing, they phoned stores across the country and bought beanies. Their promotion immediately piqued the interest of collectors, which Ty used to launch a website – perhaps one of the first blogs ever! Allows companies to disrupt products, offer conversation centres with people, and nurture unhealthy mania in frontier areas. We ran into a woman who wrote: “The Beanie Rap”, which was not as well known as you’d expect. We see a sticker on the bumper that says “Bankrupt Beanies,” and then we meet a woman who is still paying off her credit card debt related to Beanie Baby. After another, one crazy old T.V. news clip shows the media fueling the buying frenzy.
“Rare” and “Retired” hats sell for hundreds, if not thousands, on eBay. The shops were full of crowds snapping Bini. Thieves kidnap a truck full of hats. McDonald’s was promoting Teenie Beanie, and people would buy a dozen meals at a time, hold cheeseburgers, and stock up toys. Fake hats are transported from China in trucks and sold to crooks. A hat box fell from a truck on a five-lane freeway, and crazy people stopped their cars to jump into fast traffic and catch them. And eventually, like all fashion styles, dropped the bubble, and Warner became one of America’s wealthiest holes. Somewhere in the darkness, Furby could be heard giggling against his ass.
Sorry, but your “rare” Squealer Beanie isn’t worth scratching. Goodwill may take it, but they may have more than their share. He’s back down the stairs!
Yes, it’s all a lot of fun.
Beanie Mania is a dynamic 80-minute document full of nostalgia. Full of people who have funny and interesting things to say. Even though one of them is not Warner because he was Roger Smith’s G.M. President for this film. I was. Director Yemisi Brooks approaches the subject with an open mind. By keeping it light and fun without bending over to poke fun at anyone or take advantage of any excitement. People don’t wave their fingers here but laugh a lot.
The document is a large piece of journalism in a style that doesn’t shy away from tackling some of today’s essential feed issues. How the secondary market works, not as a place to “invest” but to profit from the collector mentality. How collecting has the potential to become a destructive addiction. The role of the media in our cultural trends. The groupthink of the mentality of what we know as FOMO today (you know – fear of missing out). The cynical motives of greedy capitalists like Warner, who keep all the money to themselves, mistreat their employees, and whose marketing manipulatives try to exploit collectors (he’s a toy collector version of Kiss or Cher who each took several “graduation tours”).
On the one hand, Beanie Mania is crazy. On the other hand, this is a warning message in the semi-light category. Brooks never talks about how kids play with baby beanies, and for a good reason – they rarely do. Adults play the Beanie Babies game, so we shouldn’t be so bad at laughing at a 58-year-old man’s ziggy zebra who fell on a shelf with a label on his ear and dipped in his collection: Dust.
Beanie Mania has the brilliance of a documentary about guilt, and that’s it. But it also adds some substance to the story. This is a fun watch.